Hamas told Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday they should not take part in January elections called by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah movement.
The move raised doubts about whether the vote decreed by Abbas would take place on Jan. 24 and threatened to further deepen the bitter rift between his secular Fatah party and its Islamist rivals.
‘Any preparations, any committees, any collecting of names will be regarded as an illegal action that we will pursue.’
Ehab Al-GhsainAbbas issued a decree ordering elections in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, in a move seen by some as turning up the heat on the Islamist group to sign the deal.
The Interior Ministry said Abbas’s call for parliamentary and presidential ballots was issued without the agreement of Hamas and other factions and was illegal.
"Any preparations, any committees, any collecting of names will be regarded as an illegal action that we will pursue," said spokesman Ehab Al-Ghsain.
He said the ministry had instructed local officials not to cooperate with Abbas, whose secular party dominates political life in the West Bank but has been all but driven out of Gaza.
Hamas said its decision would include banning the current Central Election Commission (CEC), which has five offices in Gaza, from operating on orders from Abbas.
Ghsain said the current CEC was no longer entitled to carry out preparations for an election, since Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah had agreed in Egyptian-mediated unity talks that a new body should be formed.
In the West Bank, the CEC meanwhile asked staff who worked on past elections to get in contact in the West Bank and Gaza in order to prepare for the forthcoming campaign.
Hamas drove Fatah out of Gaza in 2007 and the two factions remain bitter rivals.
Unlike Fatah, Hamas has so far resisted signing a draft reconciliation pact brokered by Egypt, which would have set June 28, 2010 as the date for the next election.